The news that £2m has been handed to academics to study how humans get on with chickens has caused the usual squawks of outrage and claims of a waste of money.
Students at Bournemouth University will be leading the project that is catchily entitled Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human-Chicken Interactions.
I’m a bit disappointed because my own suggested project was kicked into touch: Cultural and Scientific Perceptions of Human-Beer Interactions. And it would have cost a lot less than £2m.
As part of the research students will be sent to live in Cuba and Ethiopia and Robert Oxley, campaign director of the Taxpayers Alliance, says: “This is frankly an absurd sum of money to spend on what appears to be a ridiculous study. Given the limited budget and important challenges facing the UK, research like this should be way down the pecking order for taxpayer-funded grants.”
Pecking order. Nice touch.
Don’t laugh, but I think the more we know about chickens the better in case they ever declare war.
At any one time there are 24 billion chickens in the world – that’s more than four times the human population. Fifty billion are reared every year, many having a short and unhappy life as they are fed into the food chain.
Brits alone consume 29 million eggs a day. Hens can wear themselves out with intensive breeding and lifespan can be reduced from seven to two years. Personally, I take care only to buy happy eggs from happy chickens that are allowed to roam the range. Not many are so lucky.
Worldwatch Institute says that 74% of the world’s poultry meat and 68% of eggs are produced using intensive farming techniques.
In the US, statistics for 2003 showed that 75% of all flocks were force moulted to encourage them to lay more eggs. This involves the complete withdrawal of food and sometimes water for between seven to 14 days. If this was carried out against humans it could result in trials at Nuremberg.
But these are chickens. Who cares?
Let’s take a closer look at the gallus gallus domesticus, so popular they named it twice. It originated in India where it was prized for its fighting abilities and was bred for cock fighting. The ancient Greeks considered its valour worthy of Ares, a god of war, Athena, goddess of military intelligence, and Heracles, greatest of their heroes.
Chickens live in flocks and have a collective responsibility when it comes to incubating eggs. They also have a pecking order, where the strongest leads.
What I’m worried about is the advance of genetic engineering. How long before some bright spark creates a chicken 6ft high and 18 stone?
Oo-er, 50 billion six foot chickens striding the world?
Then we’ll discover a new pecking order when those fighting cocks organise their flocks into legions and fight back against the tyranny under which they have lived for years.
Chicken and chips?
There will be plenty of chicken but mankind may have had their chips.
Unless, like me, they buy happy eggs from happy chickens.
This year has been The Gathering, not a new scary book by Stephen King, but a year-long invitation to visit Ireland for anyone with Irish roots or an affinity for the country. Liking Guinness will do.
Lynne Schofield, who does have an Irish background, has been to Roscommon in the West of Ireland, not far from Galway, where my family originated.
She runs family history classes in West Yorkshire so she combined her visit with a three day seminar about tracing Irish ancestry.
As well as lectures they did field visits including one to the local Famine Museum and, if that sounds bizarre, you will find these all over Ireland, a reminder of the terrible potato famines and land clearances of the 19th century which caused mass emigration and drove my ancestors to come to England.
Many had their passage paid to America by the English landowners, not out of charity but because it was cheaper than paying to keep them in workhouses. Families were crammed into ships in appalling conditions and many never survived the Atlantic crossing.
Lynne said: “The visit to the museum was an informative but very moving experience, especially for those with ancestors involved in the clearing of the lands, the coffin ships and the struggle to survive.”
Her Family History classes at St Mary’s Parochial Hall in Batley run from October 10 for anyone wishing to trace their roots, Irish or otherwise. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone interested in that turbulent period of Irish history can do worse than watch the DVD of The Hanging Gale, a BBC television drama set during the famine in which the four McGann brothers – Joe, Mark, Paul and Stephen – are part of a family trying to survive starvation and persecution.
It runs for three and a half hours, was filmed in Ramelton in Donegal, an area I know well, and is quite brilliant.
Have a box of tissues handy if you watch it. It’s an emotional tearjerker.
Kenneth Greenwood adds to the memories of the temperance movement and recalls a Band of Hope meeting where a committed lady was talking to a group of children.
She produced two glasses of clear liquid which she placed on the table in front of them. She then picked up two worms and dropped the first into one of the glasses and said: “This glass contains water and you will see the worm swims happily around.”
She dropped the second worm into the other glass and said: “This glass contains gin and you will see that the worm is dead. What does that tell us?”
And Little Billy on the front row put up his hand and said: “If you’ve got worms drink plenty of gin.”